Message from the Dean – April 22, 2019

First some good news:

Seven vocalists from the School of Music were finalists in the Oklahoma district student competition of the National Association of Teachers of Singing on April 13. Three of those student finalists placed in their categories: 1st place – freshman musical theatre major Caleb Barnett, 3rd place – junior musical theatre major Easton Edwards, and 3rd place – senior music education major Hope Gerhard. Congratulations to all the vocalists and their teacher/mentors!

Now a story:

In my lifetime, I have endured only one overnight stay as a hospital patient. During my mid 40’s I was an avid bicyclist, and in the best cardiovascular condition of my life. If the temperature rose above 50 degrees, I rode 20 miles a day, with the goal of completing the route in under an hour. On a blistering hot and windy day in July, my time-split at the halfway mark was a few seconds over 30 minutes. Wishing to diminish the elapsed deficit while pedaling uphill and against the wind, I put my head down and hammered on the pedals. Picking up the pace, I hunched over, attempting to become more aerodynamic while focusing on the short stretch of road immediately in front of the rapidly spinning wheel. I kept the tire within the four-inch ribbon of white rushing toward me on the edge of the lane.

Just ahead, a woman pulled off to the side of the road and stopped for a garage sale. Unfortunately, when she hit the brakes, her trunk extended slightly over the white line I was eyeballing. I saw the bumper a fraction of a second before crashing into it at a speed greater than 20 m.p.h. Striking the vehicle, I caromed off the bicycle and onto the road, crushing my collar bone and scudding across a stretch of sandpapery tarmac. I lost a significant quantity of skin on my legs, shoulders, hips, arms and hands, but the primary source of pain blossomed in my shoulder. I suffered a torn labrum, and shattered my clavicle into three pieces. When the ambulance arrived, they dosed me with morphine and sped to the emergency room where they bandaged my wounds, slipped the affected arm into a sling and attempted to cheerfully bid me adieu. My broken, bloody and pain-racked condition failed to qualify me for further immediate attention within the procedure-factory model of medical care. Unaccustomed to morphine, and in shock, I fainted as I stood up from the wheelchair to get into the car. At that point, fearful of libel, the medical professionals determined it might be better to keep me for observation overnight. Thus, began my only overnight hospital stay.

While not a patient myself, I spent a significant amount of time last week at Vanderbilt hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, supporting my mom and dad while he was in care. Last Wednesday morning, as we waited for news from the surgical team, I received a text from Dean’s Council that included a photograph of my fellow deans and the Provost’s team, wishing my dad well, and thinking of me. This was an incredibly touching gesture of support. It felt like a genuine and friendly symbolic hug. I am incredibly grateful for the expressions of concern, conveyed in various ways, by my UCO and CFAD family. After less than two years, Sandy and I feel welcomed and embraced beyond our expectations. OKC and UCO really are the Big Friendly.

There are numerous days in an academic’s life when the apparent best-case scenario is to focus on the task immediately in front of us. Like a bicyclist, pounding the pedals while keeping the front tire spinning forward on the white line, we are all relying on task triage in an attempt to survive the semester. While approaching the final days of the 2018-19 school year, I encourage everyone to glance up for a moment and appreciate the Big Friendly. We are on this journey together. Our colleagues in CFAD and UCO are incredible. We may not always agree. There will be moments when we test each other’s patience, but to quote Shakespeare, “our hearts are in the trim”. I encounter daily evidence that this faculty and staff are ultimately dedicated to the goal of providing the best possible transformative learning experiences for our students. When experiencing frustration due to pedagogical differences of opinion, disparate leadership styles, or conflicting ideas concerning fund prioritizations, I will broaden my focus and remember the unifying characteristics that define us.

Last week, even as the semester picked up speed in a final sprint toward the finish, I was grateful to glance up for a moment and see the smiling and supportive faces of colleagues, instead of an obstacle glimpsed prior to a crash. Thank you for being there for me. We care for each other, and it shows.